PLASTIC EATING MUSHROOM COULD RID THE WORLD OF TOXIC WASTE

The amount of trash we throw away is growing exponentially. World Bank urban development specialist Dan Hoornweg estimates that by 2100 the world will be producing three times the amount of waste it does today. There is a growing concern surrounding the world’s garbage issue, as the global cost of dealing with all of the trash is rising, not to mention the negative impact it will have on the environment. Most of the garbage thrown away, like plastic, is not environmentally friendly or biodegradable. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic debris in the ocean than fish by 2050.

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So how are we going to combat the never ending flow of garbage to landfills and into our oceans? A mushroom. Yes, a mushroom has the potential to help reduce the amount of waste around the world by literally feeding off of it. Professor Scott Strobel of Yale University found a rare, plastic eating mushroom in the Amazon during a research expedition with 20 molecular biophysics and biochemistry undergrads. The mushroom (Pestalotiopsis Microspora) breaks down the main ingredient, polyurethane, in plastic. It is the first microbe to survive exclusively on plastic, and can do so in oxygen free environments. We could literally dump these mushrooms at the bottom of landfills and solve our plastic waste problem.

There are even scientists and designers who have been able to alter the mushroom to produce edible products out of the plastic it consumes. Austrian designer Katharina Unger created the Fungi Mutarium, which turns the plastic eating mushroom into edible products. Unger first creates an egg-like pod made up of agar, a seaweed-based gelatin substitute. Plastic is then placed in the pod and the fungi are introduced. The mushroom feeds off of the starch and sugar of the pod, along with the plastic. After a few months, all that is left is a puffy, edible substance that Unger herself has consumed, and says can be made to taste like any flavor. I don’t know about eating a substance that was once a plastic eating mushroom.

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While this plastic eating mushroom sounds like it could be the environment’s savior, some scientists are concerned about rushing to use the mushroom. For instance, some scientists have found that one of the microbe’s properties has the propensity for horizontal gene transfer. In plain speak, this mushroom has the ability to adopt other species’ genes and infect them with its own genes – scary!

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